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Where Study Leads: BI's Spring/Summer Antiracism Offerings

May 31, 2022


Rabbi Linda Potemken

Between the festivals of Passover & Shavuot the Jewish people study a text filled with practical wisdom for life called “Pirkei Avot”, known in English as Ethics (or Chapters) of the Ancestors. One offering from this text (3:12) translates Anyone whose good deeds exceed their wisdom, their wisdom will endure. And anyone whose wisdom exceeds their good deeds, their wisdom will not endure. To paraphrase, deeds are more important than wisdom

Elsewhere in rabbinic texts we find a different perspective: In the Talmud (Kiddushin 40b) we read of a debate that took place 1,500 years ago about which is greater, the study of Torah or its practice. R. Tarfon said practice was greater. R. Akiva said study is greater because it leads to practice. The majority went with R. Akiva. Why might they have come to that conclusion and how does that inform our antiracism work?

Since our antiracism summit in January several subgroups have been working at BI on areas of practice and areas of learning. Beginning this month, the Adult Education Committee will be sending out a learning module every 3 weeks, designed so that an individual can engage with it on their own for 15 to 45 minutes. The module will include an antiracism resource such as a Ted Talk or an article, and a piece of Torah that complements the ideas examined in that module. BI’ers may explore these individually or with a chevruta partner (learning buddy). There will also be an opportunity to discuss the material with others during a one hour facilitated group
I’ll conclude with a teaching by R. Yisrael Salanter who wrote:

When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world. I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation. When I found I couldn't change the nation, I began to focus on my town. I couldn't change the town and as an older man, I tried to change my family. Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My family and I could have made an impact on our town. Their impact could have changed the nation and I could indeed have changed the world.

May our study pave the way for the blossoming of insights and understanding and may we use that wisdom for the good as we learn antiracism and spread that Torah in the wider world.

Group Discussion of Antiracism Resource #1 Wednesday May 11    7:30
Group Discussion of Antiracism Resource #2 Wednesday June 1 7:30
Group Discussion of Antiracism Resource #3 Wednesday June 22 7:30

Thu, November 30 2023 17 Kislev 5784